Cooking New Orleans
Get a taste of what it’s really like to live, cook and eat in New Orleans with these classes and experiences.
Story by Erin Z. Bass
Ever wondered what makes a perfect gumbo, crawfish etouffee or praline? Is the secret in the roux, sauce or seasoning? Find out by signing up for a cooking class in New Orleans, a Louisiana city with 300 years of culinary history.
Established in 1980, the New Orleans School of Cooking promises fun, food and folklore. Classes are held in an 1800s renovated molasses warehouse in the French Quarter, where Cajun and Creole experts teach the basics of New Orleans cooking, blended with history and tall tales.
Demo and hands-on classes offer different menus depending on the day, with at least three courses covered in each class. Learn how to make New Orleans staples like gumbo, jambalaya, bread pudding and pralines, but also go a bit further with local favorites like grits and grillades or shrimp and artichoke soup.
Private and group demonstrations are also available for booking, and you can even complete a form on the website to request a diploma. Stop in at the on-site Louisiana General Store afterward for locally sourced products and the school’s own Joe’s Stuff seasoning.
Crescent City Cooks, which doubles as a retail shop on Chartres in the French Quarter, offers similar demonstration and hands-on classes for a steal at $30 a person. Mondays are typically red beans and rice, Tuesdays shrimp etouffee, Wednesdays and Saturdays jambalaya, and Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays showcase different variations of gumbo.
The Southern Food and Beverage Museum (SOFAB) in New Orleans’ Central City is a tasty spot to learn about the South’s culinary heritage. A permanent exhibit features Popeyes Chicken founder Al Copeland, while past exhibits have told the story of Galatoire’s Restaurant, red beans and rice, and others. SOFAB also houses a culinary library and menu project, the Museum of the American Cocktail, La Galerie de L’Absinthe, and Rouses Culinary Innovation Center by Jenn-Air.
It’s in the Culinary Innovation Center, which has its own entrance on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, that cooking classes on Creole New Orleans cuisine, Louisiana’s Cajun cuisine, and Creole Italian cuisine are offered. Learn to make Creole okra and tomatoes, Bananas Foster, Macque Choux with Tasso, Gateau de Sirop, or Creole red gravy with sweet Italian sausage and pasta—all served up with Luzianne iced tea.
“The cooking classes at SoFAB are unique because, besides excellent cooking, we offer the history and culture of the cuisine as well as a special private tour of the museum,” says Liz Williams, museum director and founder. “Our classes are informative, fun, and delicious.”
Class participants receive copies of all the recipes and a jar of SoFAB’s Spice Mix. Admission, lunch and the tour led by Williams are included in the $50 ticket price.
Another local food celebrity, Poppy Tooker, is teaching classes at the brand new New Orleans Culinary & Hospitality Institute (NOCHI). Offering culinary arts certificates, the institute also launched enthusiast courses in January. These three-hour, hands-on sessions are geared toward home cooks as well as food and wine enthusiasts, with some classes in a Louisiana Series taught by radio personality Tooker. Other instructors include local restaurant owners and cookbook authors.
More intimate experiences can be found at Casa Pelican B&B and Cooking School and The Bakehouse, which limit classes to six students. Located in Algiers Point just across the Mississippi River, historic Casa Pelican is dedicated to culinary topics like Cajun and Creole basics, Louisiana seafood, and New Orleans jazz brunch. A formal, sit-down meal concludes each class, so if you book a room at the upstairs bed and breakfast, you won’t have far to go for that afternoon nap.
The Bakehouse is national food blogger and cookbook author Joy the Baker’s studio. She moved from California to New Orleans in 2014 and now offers cooking classes, private parties, and special events at her Bywater space. Recent classes showed participants how to bake a king cake from scratch, and upcoming workshops will focus on Louisiana Strawberry Pie and Italian Easter Bread.
In a guide to her favorite things in New Orleans, Joy Wilson writes, “The one overarching opinion about New Orleans, native or not, is that we’re glad you’re coming to visit. Genuinely. We want you to come enjoy what we enjoy about this city, take lots of pictures, have a daiquiri, listen to the music, eat all of the food.”
One way to do that—and then take that food knowledge home with you—is through a cooking class.
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Erin Z. Bass
Erin Z. Bass is editor/publisher of deepsouthmag.com. She lives and writes in Lafayette, La.